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The importance of oral sources to the reconstruction of African history

One of the main sources of African history is oral traditions. These are traditions handed down from one generation to another. These oral sources are found in myths, taboos, customs, folk-lore and folktales. By their very name, they are not written down, they are carried by word of mouth, told and retold over the years. The historian is able to find information from this source in writing the history of Africa. Oral sources are important for many reasons and they are discussed below.

A confirmation of archeological findings
One of the reasons why oral sources are important is that though it establishes facts about the history of a people, the oral traditions are able to corroborate what the archeologists have discovered. This way, all doubts about the phenomenon is cleared once and for all.

Helps to determine the sequence of events
Oral tradition is also important because it is used to determine the sequence of historical events. This helps to clear any doubts that may be lingering in the minds of people about the history of the African.

It can be reliable
Oral tradition is very important for the reconstruction of African history, especially, in the absence of other more concrete sources of information. In the absence of more reliable sources, oral sources become very important in the scheme of things.

In spite of the usefulness of oral sources of information to the historian, there are some problems associated with its usage. Some of these problems are discussed below.

It is not precise
One of the reasons why oral sources can be problematic is that it is devoid of exactitude. Oral traditions lack the necessary details that a story needs to have in order to be authentic. One can, therefore, not wholly rely on oral sources. It has to be supported by other sources to stand the test of time.

It lacks sequence
Oral sources have another problem and it is that the sequence of events is sometimes questionable. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the stories were transmitted by word of mouth so in the process, some of the details get lost and the sequence mixed up or sometimes events omitted all together.

There is also the problem of unnecessary exaggeration of events. For example, some of the details are incredible and therefore can only be the product of fabrications to enhance the image of individuals or communities. The problem is that such exaggerations do not make the accounts believable.

Absence of details
Another problem with oral sources is that it lacks some essential features. The surviving witnesses are not able to connect the occurrence of events to actual dates because their main concern is the story and not any dates. This ultimately creates the problem of sequence of events in the narratives.

1. Discuss how oral traditions help in the writing of African history.

2. Describe the merits of any four non-documentary sources of African history.

3. Discuss the merits and demerits of oral traditions as sources of African history.

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